Convention attendees rehabilitate local animal shelters

American Veterinary Medical Foundation arranged the "voluntourism" project
Published on August 15, 2008
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Animal shelter before rehab
Animal shelter after rehab
This is the recovery room at the St. Charles Parish Animal
Shelter near New Orleans, before and after the voluntourism project.

Painting walls in sweltering weather actually may have been a highlight of the 145th AVMA Annual Convention for many attendees.

On July 17 and 18, dozens of attendees started off their visit to New Orleans by rehabilitating four local animal shelters. The American Veterinary Medical Foundation arranged the project with sponsorship from Bayer Animal Health, Hill's Pet Nutrition, and Sherwin Williams. The goal was to put the Veterinarian's Oath in action by combining tourism with volunteerism in an area still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

"I can't say enough about the volunteers," said Dr. Mark Carlson of the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, who coordinated the AVMF "Our Oath in Action" voluntourism work at the Plaquemines Animal Welfare Society. "I think it helps when everyone believes in what they're doing and believes they're making a difference. We did."

Veterinarians, veterinary students, family members, and other conventioneers who volunteered at the shelter in Plaquemines Parish spent their time painting, cleaning, replacing ceiling tiles, tackling various repairs, and moving animals from room to room as necessary.

"This is a way for me to get out and be less of a tourist while giving back," said Nikki McGreevey, a third-year veterinary student at Colorado State University. "My pets are very fortunate, and I like to help those that are less lucky."

Dr. Trish Daly of Bayer said she's visited New Orleans five or six times. Hurricane Katrina forced her to cancel a trip she'd planned for November 2005.

"I've always loved New Orleans—and during the disaster was so moved by the poor animals and wished that I could have done something then," she said. "I hope that more of the meetings are held here to help the place get back on its feet."

Volunteers give the walls a fresh coat of paint at
the Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter—Westbank.

inquisitive cat
Animals such as this inquisitive cat at
Plaquemines Animal Welfare Society
in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, are
the ultimate beneficiaries of the American
Veterinary Medical Foundation's
voluntourism project.

Volunteer Wendy Harmon
Volunteer Wendy Harmon of Pets Best
Insurance holds a puppy at the Jefferson
Parish Animal Shelter—Westbank. "It
makes me feel happy and whole to be
able to give my time to a more than
worthy cause," she
said after returning
home from New Orleans.

Sherri Van Hoosier, director of the Plaquemines shelter, said the project should make the shelter more inviting for potential adopters.

"It's wonderful. We really needed it," she said. "It's hard to keep up. We have tons of animals, not enough people. We're very grateful."

Dr. Tracy DuVernoy, a volunteer and a contractor for the Department of Defense, said the AVMF project generated a lot of enthusiasm and desire to help.

"Let's continue 'Our Oath in Action' every year," she said.

This year's voluntourism project extended beyond Plaquemines Parish to animal shelters in Jefferson, St. Charles, and St. John parishes.

"The shelter workers feel touched that people came down to help them out," said Lisa Tommelein, AVMF development director.

Tommelein said the AVMF plans to organize another voluntourism project for next year's convention in Seattle.